Cee Lo Green and the Year of “Fuck You”


The Tea Party. Lebron James. Pamplamoose. July’s near-record-setting heat. Bros Icing Bros. Don Draper’s marriage proposal. Vuvuzelas. “Pants on the Ground.” Little Fockers. December’s “snowpocalypse.” The “Forget You” radio edit and Gwyneth Paltrow vehicle. Jonathan Franzen fatigue. Double-digit unemployment. Derek Jeter’s 2010 Gold Glove. The word “snowpocalypse.” Four Loko hysteria. Taylor Swift singing live during award shows. Olympics tape delay. The ubiquity of that bugged-out JetBlue flight attendant. Twitter fatigue. “Rape gaze.” The Perez Hilton headline “Ke$ha Nude Pic Leaked!!!! Covered In Semen!” Michael Jackson’s we’re-pretty-sure-that’s-him-singing posthumous full-length debacle, the first of many. The “Ground Zero Mosque.” The Lost finale. Especially the Lost finale. Yes, 2010 was the perfect year for a song called “Fuck You,” and Cee Lo Green the perfect man to deliver it: with a jovial wink, with a commanding howl, with an all-too-appropriate wailing-baby bridge that goes, Whyyyyyyy? Whyyyyyyy? Whyyyyyyy?

Because we deserved it: both the disease and its jubilant pop-soul antidote. With our day-to-day, hour-to-hour agenda now set entirely via trending topic (often provided by either Sarah Palin or Fabolous), with ephemeral Internet debacles (she quit her job via dry-erase board! She’s not a witch! She’ll Tweet your phone number!) our only cause and currency, it fell to Mr. Green to rise above by going . . . viraler. With all due respect to songwriter/pompadour enthusiast Bruno Mars (whose buoyant hook on B.o.B.’s “Nothin’ on You” was nearly equally fantastic) . . . (look, let’s not argue about this right now), it’s the singer’s show, easily the single most dazzling vocal performance of 2010, for that Tony-winning I really love you aahahhhhhhhahah climax alone. Goodie Mob fans feared “Fuck You” would lead to cartoonish, career-diminishing typecasting—smart Pitchfork scribe Nate Patrin compared it to people who only remember Isaac Hayes as Chef from South Park—but this is comedy that only deepens and heightens Green’s long-evident mastery of drama, his Leslie-Nielsen-in-Airplane moment, every F-bomb landing with the hilarious gravitas of “Don’t call me Shirley.”

Cee Lo has a habit of inadvertently reflecting the national mood; recall that this is his second Pazz & Jop–topping hit to successfully convince us that darkness is actually light. Gnarls Barkley’s “Crazy” nearly tripled the output of its closest competition (T.I., heh) in 2006 with the most infectious insanity plea imaginable, inspiring a raft of covers and the general sense that the whole world could relate. (Note that Time‘s Person of the Year that year was . . . “You.”) Four years later, we’ve got Taylor Momsen, William Shatner, and, yes, Ms. Paltrow all taking their shots at the brassy lament of a proud man dumped because he’s flat broke, a line like, “I guess the change in my pocket wasn’t enough” resonating deeply and unpleasantly here in the age of the double-dip recession.

It’s almost too easy to note the class-warfare angle, but many admirers did anyway; that it’s easy doesn’t make it wrong. (50 Cent, ever the unrepentant capitalist, immediately released his own version, from the loaded new boyfriend’s perspective—if it makes Green feel any better, that relationship probably ended badly after 50 started soliciting random women on Twitter to send him naked pictures.) And if you find “Fuck You” too eerily spot-on, spare a moment for your runner-up, seizing the zeitgeist with equal but slightly off-kilter aplomb. Janelle Monáe is this year’s genuine surprise: Sprawling, bewildering monolith The ArchAndroid hit a shocking #4 on the albums chart, but its beating heart is the stupendous robo-funk anthem “Tightrope,” #2 with a bullet and itself a monument to fluctuations market-based and otherwise—”You can’t get too high! You can’t get too low!”—as Big Boi chipped in the only logical rhyme for “NASDAQ”: “ass crack.”

“Tightrope” pushes the same retro-bonanza buttons as the one song that vanquished it, but both transcend mere pastiche; Cee Lo, though, had a far deadlier adversary to overcome. Ubiquity. Via our various online echo chambers, anything remotely popular now gets beaten to death: Today’s unimpeachable fount of hilarity is tomorrow’s I’MA LET YOU FINISH BUT _______ HAD THE GREATEST ______ OF ALL TIME! The backlash comes for us all: Kanye’s simply had the good sense to arrive after the polls had closed. But not this time. Not this song. “Fuck You” is somehow repetition-proof, impossible to get sick of no matter how many times it’s foisted on you, via Glee, via CSI, via YouTube, via prude-mortifying Grammy nod, via hilariously stiff Times article. (“The singer is peeved at a girl who has left him and concludes that ‘If I’d been richer, I’d still be with ya’ and though ‘there’s pain in my chest, I still wish you the best . . .’ followed by a certain crude phrase, and an ‘ooh, ooh, ooh.’ “) We are running out of renewable resources: fossil fuels, patience, goodwill. “Fuck You,” paradoxically, can indefinitely restore two out of three. Drive that Ferrari while you still can, motherfucker.

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